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In praise of the train fight scene, a timeless action movie staple

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There are a lot of ways to make a good action movie. Outlandish stunts, exciting heists, big explosions... the sky is the limit. But there’s one way to guarantee a good time for audiences: staging an action sequence on a train.

Trains just rule, OK? In addition to being a wonderful form of mass transportation, they just look cool, inside and out (or on top, if you are an action star).

With the new Brad Pitt actioner Bullet Train now out in theaters, what better time to celebrate this great cinematic tradition? With death-defying stunts from Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh and movies entirely set on trains like Train to Busan (and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train, which we love but unfortunately did not make the cut due to a lack of easily available clips), here are some of our favorite train-themed action sequences. Enjoy!


Supercop

Michelle Yeoh jumps a motorcycle off of a hill and lands it on a moving train. I repeat: Michelle Yeoh jumps a motorcycle off of a hill and lands it on a moving train. According to Yeoh, Jackie Chan was so stunned by the stunt that he felt the need to one-up her by landing on the train via parachute. The result: This scene absolutely whips. —Pete Volk

The Wolverine

Logan may get more attention, as far as solo Wolverine projects go, but (hot take) I prefer The Wolverine. It’s the rare modern superhero project with a contained conflict (rather than an apocalyptic one), and, most importantly to this list, the fight on top of a bullet train absolutely rules. —PV

The Raid 2

The Raid series changed the action world, emphasizing brutal action that is easy to comprehend visually. After the first movie’s vertical approach in a high-rise apartment building, the second is considerably more spread out in narrative approach and location. In this standout scene (spliced together by a YouTuber so you only see moments from this sequence), Julie Estelle’s “Hammer Girl” absolutely wrecks some dudes on a train with her signature hammers. The Raid 2 would like to remind you that hammers have two sides, and they are both extremely deadly. —PV

Mission: Impossible

It’s no hanging off a plane in Rogue Nation, but back in the first Mission: Impossible, Tom Cruise did hang on top of a train in a thrilling sequence with Jon Voight and Jean Reno. The stunt was a mix of practical and CG effects. —PV

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3’s opening scene has all the makings of a legendary train fight sequence: stakes, suspense, orphans, nunchucks, backflips, etc. Truly, there is nothing more powerful than a child’s imagination. —Toussaint Egan

Train to Busan

This is one of those movies on here where technically most of its running time could qualify. But we can’t pass up the opportunity to highlight Ma Dong-seok beating down some zombies with taped-up forearms. —PV

Wanted

If there’s one thing you know about Wanted, it’s probably that bullets curve in it. One of the cooler examples happened in this train sequence, where James McAvoy curves a bullet around a civilian to hit another bullet that was surely going to strike her. Angelina Jolie also crashes a car into a train, if you’re into that kind of thing. —PV

Speed

Speed may be known for its use of a different mode of public transportation, but a train features quite prominently (just not quite as much as the bus). Toward the end of the movie, Sandra Bullock is being held hostage on a train by Dennis Hopper, while Keanu Reeves hangs onto the top of the train. Hopper joins him up there, and we get an all-out brawl on top of the moving train, ending in a memorable death for a great ’90s movie villain. —PV

Snowpiercer

It’s difficult to pick out just one train fight sequence in a movie like Snowpiercer, a film consisting nearly entirely of scenes (many of them fight scenes) inside a train. The blackout sequence, however, stands out as one of the film’s finest, as the audience witnesses Curtis’ (Chris Evans) rebellion being cut down by a cadre of masked machete-wielding soldiers with night-vision goggles. The scene’s climax, featuring a small boy hoisting a flaming torch like an Olympic marathon runner to aid Curtis, is one of the most exhilarating and memorable images in the entire film. —TE

The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix series is renowned for its dazzling ensemble action sequences, and the train fight in The Matrix Resurrections is no different. Beginning with an RPG missile tearing a hole in the side of a Japanese bullet train, the scene erupts into a cacophony of gunfire and acrobatics as Bugs, the crew of the Mnemosyne, and an alternate version of Morpheus fend off a swarm of possessed blue-pills as Neo struggles to regain his composure. It’s a perfect encapsulation of tone of The Matrix Resurrections as a whole: at once serious and kinetic as it is irreverently comical and brimming with personality. —TE

Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2 isn’t just one of the best Spider-Man movies ever made, it’s one of the best superhero movies of all time, full stop. There’s several points in the film’s favor for either argument, be it Tobey Maguire’s more mature take on the superpowered web-slinger as he struggles with his duties as a vigilante, Alfred Molina’s tragic and terrifying performance as a noble scientist and mentor twisted by grief and a freak accident into a multi-armed villain, or the skillful emotional storytelling and craftsmanship of director Sam Raimi. For the purposes of this list, however, let’s focus specifically on the train fight between Spider-Man and Dr. Otto Octavius, which easily stands the test of time as one of the most exhilarating action sequences seen in any superhero film.

There’s so much to appreciate, like Spidey shooting like a torpedo through the grating of a tunnel overpass, the breathtaking moment where Peter and Doc Ock trade blows while standing on the side of a train carriage as it barrels ahead, or the shot of Spider-Man maneuvering through traffic before hoisting himself across rooftops while saving civilians. It’s amazing, it’s spectacular, it’s everything you could want out of a Spider-Man film and more. —TE

John Wick: Chapter 2

The John Wick franchise delivered one of the more low-key train fights on this list, as Wick faces off with Common’s assassin, Cassian, in an intricately choreographed close-quarters knife fight. —PV

Dhoom 2

This scene, from the excellent Bollywood heist franchise sequel, is almost impossible to describe in mere words. Hrithik Roshan plays the protagonist Mr. A, Queen Elizabeth, and Mr. A as Queen Elizabeth, complete with a Mission: Impossible-style face mask reveal. He also parachutes onto a train and then sandboards behind it. A+, no notes. —PV

The Legend of Drunken Master

What, you thought there’d only be one Jackie Chan scene on this list? Think again.

This sprawling fight sequence starts on a train, then briefly goes on top of it before moving under the train and eventually away from it.

As an aside: Both this movie and the original 1978 Drunken Master are stone-cold classics filled to the brim with delightful sequences like this one. —PV

Taking of Pelham 123

This is another one of those movies where most of the running time could qualify (and that’s true for both the 1974 and 2009 versions). But I’ve included the above scene from the 2009 version, where the train is first overtaken, because 1. it rules and 2. I love late-period Tony Scott, and this is a great example of the kind of tension he was able to build. —PV

Unstoppable

We continue our ride down the late-period Tony Scott track (train reference) with this excellent blue-collar thriller set almost entirely on a train. A veteran railroad engineer (Denzel Washington) has to work with a rookie conductor (Chris Pine) to stop a runaway train in one of the director’s best movies and one of the best thrillers you can watch at home. —PV

The Harder They Fall

The train shootout in Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall may be brief, but its execution is excellent all the same. Lakeith Stanfield’s theatrical introduction as Cherokee Bill, along with some mighty swift knife-play, steals the show before a single shot is ever fired. —TE

Ant-Man

OK, so it may not be on a train, but it sure involves one. This delightful little action-comedy sequence from the first Ant-Man movie sees Scott Lang fight Yellowjacket on a miniature train set. The final cut to an angle that shows the actual scale of the encounter is a beautifully funny note to end it on. —PV

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

This Korean Western heavily inspired by the movies of Sergio Leone is directed by Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil) and stars Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun. In this clip, which starts the movie, we get a swooping introduction to a train, and Song Kang-ho’s dual-wielding Yoon Tae-goo (aka “The Weird”) as he makes his way through the compartments. —PV

Fast Five

The Fast & Furious franchise has featured action sequences in basically every kind of vehicle imaginable, so of course one of the movies makes this list. This sequence is from one of the stronger entries in the series, and culminates in Paul Walker jumping from a moving truck attached to a moving train onto a moving car driven by Vin Diesel, before they careen off a cliff into the waters below together. Cinema! —PV

Furie

Furie absolutely rules. Director Le-Van Kiet (The Princess) previously worked with the incomparable Veronica Ngô on this revenge thriller about a reformed gangster who has to resort to her old ways when her daughter is kidnapped. With some great action sequences including the neon-soaked train fight above, it’s a bone-crunching blast. —PV

Skyfall/Spectre

We got not just one, but two banger train sequences in Daniel Craig’s Bond movies. The first, the cold open to Skyfall, has your classic “fight on top of the train” scene followed by one of the more shocking ends to any Bond cold open. The second sees Bond brawl it out with Dave Bautista, playing one of the more memorable henchmen from the Craig movies. —PV

The Grandmaster

We love Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series, but don’t forget the legendary Wong Kar-wai’s take on the iconic martial artist. Tony Leung stars as Ip Man in this version, with Zhang Ziyi as Gong Ruo Mei (seen in the clip) and action choreography by all-time great Yuen Woo-ping (who was also the action director on the last two Ip Man movies and directed the spinoff Master Z: Ip Man Legacy, starring Grandmaster co-star Max Zhang). This fight scene technically takes place next to a train, but we’re including it because it’s absolutely gorgeous. —PV

The Fugitive

The Fugitive is one of the quintessential thrillers of the 1990s, following Harrison Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble on the run from false accusations of the murder of his wife. In this scene, on the “L” train, Kimble is identified by another passenger (who informs a police officer) before the real killer attempts to take him out. —PV

Broken Arrow

You can hardly call any list related to action complete if there isn’t at least one John Woo clip included. In this scene, Christian Slater jumps from on top of a train into it, kicking former NFL star Howie Long straight off the train (and off the bridge it is traveling over) before facing off with John Travolta in a classic Woo gun battle. —PV

Resident Evil

The climactic battle between Alice (Milla Jovovich) and the mutant Licker at the end of 2002’s Resident Evil is a terrific action set-piece that feels like both an ode to Ridley Scott’s Alien and an enthusiastic homage to the train boss fight at the end of Resident Evil 2. If you know, you know. —TE

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory

This scene has everything you’d want from a Steven Seagal movie.

A man gets kicked off a train, only to get run over by it. An array of bad guys and henchmen played by a litany of character actors (Eric Bogosian! Jonathan Banks! Kurtwood Smith!). A future star in Katherine Heigl. A gigantic gun battle both on top of and inside of the train. Seagal wearing all black. A hard-to-believe stunt under a moving train. It’s pure ’90s action goodness all around. —PV

The Equalizer 2

The second entry of the underrated Denzel action series opens with this tense scene on a train, moving from a calm conversation to brutal combat with a quickness.

It’s a great display of Denzel’s skillset — his Robert McCall is calm, collected, and reserved, always in control of his situation, but able to amp up from zero to 60 on a moment’s notice. When his conversation with his target turns on a dime, finally letting the audience in on what’s going on... That’s the good stuff, right there. —PV

The Wrong Trousers

Nick Park’s stop-motion classic from 1993, starring lovable oaf Wallace and his cucumber-cool dog Gromit — plus a silent penguin villain and a robotic pair of pants — is an impeccable half-hour heist thriller as well as a masterpiece of animated slapstick. It climaxes in an incredibly ingenious and sharply edited chase around Wallace’s suburban home on a model railway set that’s no less epic, suspenseful, or hilarious a set-piece for being miniaturized. Truly action filmmaking at its finest. —Oli Welsh

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